Few books are as popular in sacramentally rigorist circles as the Pedalion, or The Rudder. It has an extremely high status, particularly among young new converts eager to learn all they can as quickly as they can about the Orthodox Faith. Often, zealous individuals will read portions of the Rudder and conclude that most Orthodox bishops “are doing it wrong” when receiving converts to the Church.

 Yet, the Rudder is not universally received in the Orthodox Church nor is it an authoritative source for canon law. Neither is the peculiar and theologically modern interpretive lens it offers with the economia vs. akrivia theory which is controversial and not accepted throughout Orthodoxy. But it’s hard for those living in the rigorist bubble to acknowledge this.

It is best to look at the Rudder as a commentary on canon law similar to a commentary on the Bible. What you are reading is an interpretation based on a specific viewpoint in either case. In the case of the Rudder, as its introduction points out, we are not just getting the views of St. Nikodemus. The Rudder is instead a collaborative effort by many voices including that of the Examiner for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

 The Rudder is a very interesting work but on the matter of the reception of converts especially, we are not getting St. Nikodemus’ opinion, but that of the Patriarchal Examiner Hieromonk Dorotheos Voulismas who was a firm proponent of the pseudo-Synod of 1755 which had decreed reception of all heterodox by baptism in the way Fr. Peter Heers/ Orthodox Ethos and the most rigorist monasteries on the Holy Mountain champion (the majority of the monasteries on Mt. Athos do not hold this extreme view but follow the practice of the Ecumenical Patriarchate). The correspondence between St. Nikodemus and Voulismas on the question of the reception of converts exists today. Ultimately, St. Nikodemus’ views on this were edited out and replaced with those of Voulismas before the book was published.

In other words, regardless of its popularity with sincere and eager converts today, it is not a very useful book for non-canonists to use as a reference for what the Church believes. Instead, the Rudder is a snapshot of an extreme view on this subject and it is decidedly not the primary authority on canon law for any Orthodox jurisdiction. For the Russian Church, the primary authoritative source is the Nomocanon of the Russian Orthodox Church. For the Greek Church, the primary authoritative source is the Pandects of Canon Law.

The Rudder must bend to these as the lesser to the greater. And both of these uphold the ancient position of the patristic consensus that we do not receive converts from all heterodox groups by baptism. The Orthodox Church’s normal manner of receiving converts who have been baptized in trinitarian confessions, according to the canons, is by chrismation- precisely because we accept their baptism as valid as many of the saints explained.



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